7-22-09: Ask the Next Question...

Hello again everybody...

We've made it to the middle of another week. I'd talk about the weather, but I don't want to jinx it. Let's just say, at this rate, I'm in no rush to get to fall. And given my penchant for all things Autumnal, that's saying something!

Today's column has been percolating on the edges of my consciousness for a while, and was truly sparked by a conversation I had with a friend last night. So thanks go out to Frank for helping me put together the pieces of an idea to form a cogent thought. Or at least I hope it turns out to be cogent.

As the title implies, the basic point of the column is to ask sports fans to, "ask the next question". Don't be satisfied with a visceral, superficial gut-reaction. But think about implications and ramifications. Dig deeper and really try to understand what's going on. I suppose this could apply to life in general, but since you surfed the vast wastes of the Internet to read The Sports Take, I'll limit my discussion to sports.

Off we go...

"I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow."
- Woodrow Wilson (1856 - 1924), 28th President of the United States

Again, many thanks to the people I've conversed with over the last few days. You've all played a role in helping me put this idea together. And for that matter, an early thanks for taking the time to read this. Without the intelligence of the folks who check out my thoughts, they wouldn't be half as good!

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"Ask the next question..."

So what am I talking about?

In today's cable news/talk radio/text message/Facebook/Twitter society, it seems like we've lost something. There's nothing wrong with these media. I find many of them supremely useful - or at least vastly entertaining. But the one thing they all have in common is that they encourage easy, immediate reactions instead of deeper discussion.

We see several prominent examples of this in sports.

You'll often hear fans complain about specific players. For the Twins, this usually takes the form of Nick Punto. Punto's not a high average, home-run hitter. He's just not. He's never going to be. He is a solid, veteran defensive presence. But that's not enough for some fans. So they do what's easy and say, "they ought to just get rid of that damned Punto!"

What you don't commonly hear is someone "ask the next question".

If you're going to get rid of Punto, then who do you bring up/in to replace him? The most common answer to this question is "anybody". But the last time I checked, there wasn't a player on the Twins 40-man roster, nor on the free agent/trade market named "anybody".

Managers and General Managers don't have the luxury of just saying "get rid of Punto". They have to ask that next question. Not only do they have to ask it, but they'd better have a damned good answer if they're going to pull the trigger on a roster move.

To further the baseball examples, look at the Twins game from Monday night. Minnesota blew a 12-2 lead and ended up trailing 14-13 going into the 9th inning. With two outs and runners at first and second, Oakland's pitcher threw a wild pitch. He threw it so wildly in fact, that Michael Cuddyer was able to score from second base.

Or he would have scored, had the home plate umpire not butchered the call. Replays clearly show that Cuddyer beat the tag, but the ump was in poor position and failed to see Michael's foot slide across home plate well ahead of the tag.

The immediate, easy reaction of many fans was, "the umpire cost Minnesota the game". But that fails to "ask the next question".

Can an umpire really be held responsible for a loss when your pitching staff blows a 10-run lead?!

It was an awful call. No question about that. And the call ended the game. So I don't blame people for having that initial reaction. But if you really want to understand baseball, you have to go beyond that.

There were dozens of chances for the Twins to either keep Oakland off the board, or add more runs onto their lead. They failed to do so. So if we say that the ump blew that call, then we also have to grant that it was the Twins who put their fate in a position to be decided by said call.

Let's go beyond baseball, and bring back a subject I brought up on Monday: Michael Vick.

The easy, immediate reaction is to say, "the NFL shouldn't re-instate him."

But that fails to "ask the next question".

As I stated on Monday, there can be no defense for what he did. It was horrific and inexcusable. So much so that he served 23 months in a federal prison. That's not insignificant.

But in this country we have a tradition of building up icons and then tearing them down. Vick was a rich and successful professional athlete. He's now bankrupt and uncertain as to whether he'll be able to continue his career.

And despite his having paid his debt, people want the NFL to continue to punish him.

So what's the next question? How about, "what does the NFL suspending him after he's already missed two of the prime years of his career really accomplish?"

He was in prison. But the NFL suspending him for more time is going to be what teaches him his lesson? That's going to be what teaches all the kids out there to not follow his example?

A NFL suspension is going to scare them straight more than a 23-month stay in the federal sneezer is? Really?!

So what does it accomplish?

Are we just trying to make ourselves feel better? Is it just about positive PR for the NFL? And are any of these reasons to prevent this guy from making a living in his chosen profession?

It's easy to say, "too bad, so sad, go dig ditches like the rest of us".

But is that really fair? Is that really justice?

Or are we just jealous of the money he stands to make, even after making a series of awful, criminal decisions?

I won't be surprised if the NFL refuses to reinstate Vick. And I won't feel terribly sorry for him if that's the way it plays out.

But I do think that we do ourselves, the game, and Vick a disservice by not taking the discussion beyond that initial, immediate reaction.

Sports are entertainment. They're not the end-all, be-all of life. Sometimes they should just be simple, entertaining distractions. But to me, they're infinitely more fun if you dig in and really try to understand why things are done the way they are.

It's easy to spout off simple opinions. But it's better to "ask the next question", and uncover some of the many layers of detail that comprise the beauty of sports.

I hope that made some sense. And more-over, I hope that when I challenge your opinions/reactions, you understand that I'm only trying to "ask the next question".

That's all for today. I'm back on Friday with the delayed, but never denied DFTU.

Until then, thanks for reading!

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